A college professor I had wrote this earlier this week in relation to the current issues surrounding the impeachment trial. It applies to every aspect of our lives and I felt it needed to be shared in lieu of my own thoughts.
1) AVOID IDEOLOGICAL “NEWS”: Seek information from non-partisan, non-ideological sources. Ideological/Partisan sources have a stated mission of shaping facts and events to fit their views. Don’t expect to get accurate news from a source offering a self-stated or assumed progressive, conservative, or libertarian viewpoint. Accuracy is not their primary purpose.
2) CHARACTERISTICS OF BEST NEWS SOURCES: No news outlet is perfect but the best follow certain journalistic standards. The best ones have editorial boards that take an active role in insuring objective journalism. These boards and editors make public corrections to stories when necessary. Some go further and have “Omsbudsmen” who are tasked with checking the news outlet’s stories and views. Best news stories generally include multiple positions and perspectives – they tell you what each side of an issue is saying and then present you with accurate information surround the issue to help you evaluate those positions.
3) DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN OPINION AND NEWS: News outlets often have both opinion pieces as well as hard news stories. Quality news sources always differentiate between their opinion and hard news stories. Opinion pieces are what they are – opinions of the facts, not summaries of what the facts present. Avoid those sources that conflate opinion pieces as news.
4) MEMES AND SOCIAL MEDIA: Memes are often funny and sometimes clever but 99.9% of the time are distortive and false versions of real events. Should seem obvious but remember that “news” on social media is more often than not wrong. Often wrong with intent as many studies have shown.
5) VERIFY USING PRIMARY SOURCES: When considering news and comments from political actors, are there primary documents you can review? Are there transcripts, records, data that could be objectively used to verify what individuals and stories are arguing. Be willing to fact check.
6) WEIGH EXPERT PERSPECTIVES: Like quality news outlets, experts aren’t always right. However, it is worth considering whether there is a consensus or at least commonly shared understanding of the facts of an issue among non-partisan, non-ideological experts or professionals in the related field. Do this for climate change, vaccines, impeachment, diplomacy, trade policy, economics, etc., etc. Is there verification of key facts across multiple quality sources? Look at the careers and past statements of those experts, are they honest brokers and respected professionals within their fields?
7) BE WARY OF “WHATABOUTISMS”: Avoid disconnected “whataboutisms” where the writer/speaker tries to draw spurious connections to unrelated cases or events. These non sequiturs are often attempts by one side or another of an issue to simply “muddy the water.” To draw you away from the relevant facts at hand. In other words to make it all so messy that it is impossible to find the “clean” truth among all the mess they have created.
8) CONSPIRACIES & OCHAM’S RAZOR: Large conspiracy theories are usually just that – conspiracies that are nothing more than conjecture. They are almost always false. While large “conspiracy-type” events can occur, more often than not Ocham’s Razor is correct (The simplest or most direct answer is usually right)
9) BE SELF-REFLECTIVE: In weighing all of this competing information, be wary of one’s own ideological lenses or views. Confirmation bias is easy to fall into, in fact it’s quite natural. That’s why people often end up consuming information from their preferred party or ideology. It just feels better. Such sources always tell us we are right and who doesn’t like that?! Truth and facts are often complex, they should at least on occasion force us to think through things, to wrestle with a bit of cognitive dissonance. We should expect to grow, evolve, and change perspectives as we acquire more and better information.
Charles Horikami is a Social Studies Teacher at BLMS, and the Legislative District 32 Chair for the Idaho State Republican Party. The views expressed are not representative of the BLSD or of the Idaho State Republican Party. He can be contacted at email@example.com and welcomes all comments and critiques.